Mission Overview
NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in the summer of 2003. Spirit landed on the broad plain of Gusev Crater on January 4, 2004. Opportunity struck a ‘hole-in-one’ landing, bouncing across Meridiani Planum directly into tiny Eagle Crater on January 25, 2004.

Spirit explored the surface of Mars for over six years, with its last confirmed signal on March 22, 2010.

More than a decade since landing, Opportunity continues to return valuable data from the red planet.

Relevance to Astrobiology
A primary objective of the MER mission is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. Studying the history of water on Mars is essential in determining whether or not the planet once supported environments that were potentially habitable for life.

NASA Astrobiology Involvement
The NASA Astrobiology Program played an important role in the development of the MER mission, and supported the development of instruments carried onboard the rovers. The Astrobiology Program also funds astrobiologists who work with the immense amount of data returned by the MER mission. This data has been used to identify environments that may have supported conditions suitable for life in Mars’ past.

The Astrobiologists
NAINASA Ames Research Center Team PI David Des Marais serves on the MER Science Operations Working Group as a Lead of the Long Term Planning Theme Group. Richard Morris is a member of the MER Moessbauer instrument team. The methodology developed through this project helps to create interpretive context for mineralogy data produced by the instrument suite on MER.

NAI Massachusetts Institute of Technology Team member John Grotzinger is a Participating Scientist; Andrew Knoll is a Co-I on MER.

NAI Arizona State University Team member Phil Christensen is a Co-I on MER, responsible for the Mini-TES instruments. Co-I Jack Farmer has been a Participating Scientist, Geology Theme Group member and a Long-term Planning Lead for MER since the mission began in 2004, and has been continuously involved with surface operations since that time. Research by Farmer, Christensen, Mikhail Zolotov and others into geochemical scenarios accounting for observed Mars mineralogy aids in interpreting data from this and other Mars missions. Research into the stoichiometry of life led by Co-Is Jim Elser and Everett Shock helps to assess the habitability of the environments that MER has explored.